Some UC locations already maintain effective return-to-work (RTW) programs, and some of those have only recently been implemented. Certain UC locations have significantly strengthened their programs by issuing executive mandates requiring UC departments to temporarily accommodate physical work restrictions, implementing department financial accountability and providing for more adequate staffing resources.
Advantages of effective early return-to-work programs
Benefits of effective early return-to-work programs accrue to both UC and injured UC employees. For UC, significant cost savings are realized by minimizing lost productivity, resource replacement costs, workers' compensation indemnity benefits and medical treatment costs. The employee benefits from reduced stress and a feeling that their employer cares for their physical health and values what they bring to the workplace.
Chief components of effective early return-to-work programs
The most effective return-to-work programs contain the following components or employ the following best practices:
- Executive mandates are issued to departments, requiring that they temporarily accommodate injured workers in accordance with physical restrictions as determined by a physician.
- Financial accountability is established at the department level. Many UC locations now require that the home department pay the salary of the injured worker once released to modified duty, whether accommodated by the home department or another department. The home department is given first "right of refusal". If it does not accommodate, another accommodating department may utilize that employee's services at the cost of the home department.
- Dedicated return-to-work providers are responsible for coordinating early return-to-work among the treating medical providers, injured workers, department managers and the third party claims administrator (Sedgwick Risk Services).
- Medical providers and the third party claims administrator must also be held accountable for their efforts to assure the program's success.
- The UC workers' compensation manager, perhaps with the assistance of the third party claims administrator, conducts education sessions and meetings to train department managers in the importance of early return-to-work to both UC managers and supervisors and UC employees.
- Medical providers are required upon the completion of the first office visit and each subsequent office visit to convey physical work restrictions to the UC return-to-work coordinator (sometimes via the third party administrator) for accommodation or modification of a prior accommodation.
- Modified duty is accommodated for a limit of either 60 or 90 days, subject to possible extension if the medical provider and UC believe that the employee continues to physically improve.
- As modified positions are identified, a bank of modified job descriptions is maintained for possible use for other injuries that may occur.
- Lost work days are tracked monthly and provided to department heads.
The above constitute some chief components to effective return-to-work programs. Clearly, each UC location is different and modifications to some of the above components are necessary or advantageous. However, to optimize the success of any early return-to-work requires executive mandate, UC department accountability and adequate return-to-work staffing resources.